Friday, February 26, 2010

"Heck no, techno!"

So last week there was a library book sale.

Yeah. This is a haul post.

Of course, the purchase I am most thrilled by is the two old VHS tapes of Mary-Kate and Ashley movies my sisters procured. But the books I got are cool, too.

• Flannery O'Connor: Wise Blood, The Violent Bear It Away, Everything That Rises Must Converge
I doubt I've mentioned this in any great length, but Flannery O'Connor is one of my favorite American authors. Her stories are written so cleverly, with cutting philosophical and spiritual implications. She singlehandedly characterized southern gothic writing. Novels are cool, but my true love is short stories, and she was a master. It's not only her writing that awes me, but like Robert Frost, she was also a neat person with a remarkable life.

A Clergyman's Daughter, George Orwell
This was mentioned towards the beginning in Reading Like a Writer. I figured I should read it. It looks very dull. Actually, I lied, I just read the back cover and it sounds, in typical George Orwell fashion, appalling. But if it is, indeed, about dissociative identity disorder, it's going to be fascinating. Or at least, tolerable.

• "A Man For All Seasons" by Robert Bolt
It's a play about Sir Thomas More. That's all I know about it. I'm hoping it will increase my cultural literacy.

• Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle
This is the sort of book one would never find at my library's book sale, which usually sports mostly Danielle Steele novels and cookbooks. So I spazzed when I saw it. I'm gratified, because this copy is a Dover Thrift Edition, which I like because they typeface is easy to read. The introduction is even a tolerable length! I am reasonably excited to read this, and optimistic of finishing it.

• The Aeneid, Virgil
This is the hipster sort of thing I buy to stick on my shelf to trick myself into thinking I'm intelligent. Unlike Nicomachean Ethics, I am less optimistic that I will ever finish this. It's filled with notes in lovely neat handwriting, the margins are nice and big, and the typeface is tolerable. But, it's rather thick. And because I'm already familiar with the storyline I'm skeptical it will hold my attention. We'll see.

The Giver, Lois Lowry
Our family has checked out this very copy numerous times, in fact, I think there's a stain I left on one of the pages. Our library usually only sells donated books in the book sales, but this poor copy of The Giver has its cover falling off, and I grabbed it for nostalgia's sake. And because it's a heroic book. I love this book. Every child ought to read it.

• Chekhov: The Major Plays
I feel the need to point out that this is the third Chekhov compilation book I've purchased, and I still have yet to read anything by Chekhov. Failure? Yeah. On the other hand, I'm convinced he's a genius having never read a word he penned. That either says something about me, or about him.

The Search for Delicious, Natalie Babbitt
I don't know how this book caught my eye, but let reveal to you what the back cover says. "What is the definition of Delicious? The King's all for apples, the Queen favors Christmas pudding, and soon the entry in Prime Minister DeCree's dictionary is a bone of contention throughout the court. Alarmed, the King dispatches young Gaylen, DeCree's foster son and Special Assistant, to take a poll of the whole kingdom. In short order, the country is on the brink of civil war." You see now, why I bought it. It looks adorable.

• George Herbert and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Poets
This appears to be a very interesting anthology. I've been slowly collecting these, poetry anthologies. It's easier to contrast across a genre, and the annotations are usually helpful, though distracting. I don't recognize the other four poets, which I think is a good thing -- broadening my horizons!

Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom
I've never read this, and actually, I've disliked every Mitch Albom book I've ever read, but it's such a cultural fixture, I figure I need to read it to be able to converse intelligently with strangers. And I'm wondering what he means on the cover, what he thinks "life's greatest lesson" is. Plus, the copy matches the copy of The Five People You Meet in Heaven I bought the year earlier. I like having things in sets.

• "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams
I read this play in my 20th century literature class a few years back. I didn't like it. It was very sad, and very true. I've been referencing it a lot in preparation for my AP English Lit class, and I thought it would be good to have on hand.

Ellen Foster, Kaye Gibbons
I went through this phase last year where I read a lot of books about abused children [it's sobering just how many those sort of books there are] and this was one of the first I read. It was a terrible story, but worth it. It seems strange to say, but the stream of consciousness sort of way it's written is truly charming. Also, the copy I bought looks brand new. There's a bookmark stuck in page one, and the binding isn't even cracked. It's a shame that this copy never got read, because it's an important story.

The Memory-Keeper's Daughter, Kim Edwards
This is the first one I started reading, probably because it has the least literary merit of all these books, but also, I thought it would be fitting to read a story about Down's Syndrome in conjunction with working on my duo. It's very pretty, in language. But it's a slow read. The story feels so distant, it's about things I can't understand -- a mother's grief over the loss of her child, a doctor's confusion over lying to his wife, a nurse's helplessness over her task.

The beauty of all of this is that I paid three dollars for all these books. Barnes & Nobel's feels like a rip off in comparison. [Don't you like used books so much better than new books? I'm always so afraid of wrecking new books -- it's easier to be comfortable when the books are already gently worn.] So what I ask of you, if you are so inclined, to tell me which book I should start with?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Response., Part II

So, I'm reading The Cross and the Switchblade. Because we're visiting David Wilkerson's church on Sunday. [Also, we're going to see "Our Town" which I am way stoked about.] [Also, this is my first trip to NYC. Bring the noise.] [Also, there will be falafel involved. Hast yaow.] [I just had to throw all that out there, because I am way excited.] I'm really enjoying it, partly because it's about the gang youth scene in Brooklyn, and partly because reading real people's stories about the amazing things God's done just never gets old. I enjoy being inspired. Anyway.

There's this story he tells in the fifth chapter, about his the things he learned from his grandfather, and how his father suffered from duodenal ulcers. David was twelve years old, and his father was vomiting blood, and the doctor predicted two hours left to live. He writes, "At that moment I remembered Grandfather's promise, 'The day you learn to be publicly specific in your prayers is the day you will discover power.' For a moment I thought of walking in to where the men sat in the living room and the announcing that I was praying for my father to get up from his bed a healed man. I couldn't do it. Even in that extremity I could not put my faith out where it might get knocked down."

So instead he goes in the basement, and prays fervently out loud, not realizing his prayer is broadcasting through the house's ventilation pipes for everyone to hear. His father, hearing the prayer, called him upstairs, and they read Matthew 21:22 over and over -- "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." He mustered the courage and prayed over his father, calling in the doctor saying, "Jesus, I believe what you said. Make Daddy well. Dr. Brown, please come, I prayed believing that Daddy will get better." And to the incredulity of the doctor, David Wilkerson's father was healed. He stopped bleeding and got out of bed, pain-free. It was a laconic story, but it made an interesting point.

Mostly, this book astonishes me. Especially David's so-called "fleece prayers." But this little sub-story was especially well-timed. I was not surprised that Kenneth Wilkerson was healed, nor have any other the other decidedly miraculous happenings of the book surprised me, but I was struck by what his grandfather said. "The day you learn to be publicly specific in your prayers is the day you will discover power." On Sunday night I watched this message from Sunder Krishnan, about the power of prayer to bring about God's kingdom on earth, and I believe in this power, I believe in it more fervently than I believe in any other facet of evangelism, and now I'm hesitantly connecting the dots between Dr. Krishnan's message and what I'm reading in The Cross and the Switchblade. I'm thinking I may need to start getting ready to make a habit of praying outrageously bold prayers.

Mostly, I just have questions. Is it right to challenge God with bold prayers? It seems presumptuous, to make requests based on limited human perspective. It is less about a matter of faith -- believing God can do crazy and powerful things -- and more about reverence. Walking with Christ is about seeking His will, and aligning our desires with His, and my fear in praying crazy bold prayers is that my requests won't match up with His plans. And I think such a risk could hurt my testimony. But isn't that kind of what Christianity is like? Repeatedly flinging ourselves off a cliff -- taking a risk -- and He'll catch us if we're wrong? Is it better to do crazy bold things at the risk of being wrong, than to avoid giving God a reason to correct our failures at all? Is not taking that sort of risk a failure of its own? Can I claim to have faith without repeatedly putting my belief on trial? Am I saying what I mean? I wonder, I wonder.

I want to ask Jesus for what Jesus wants me to ask Him for. I don't want to breed a timid faith.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I hadn't realized there was so much poetry in details

Today I watched Mrs. Wright pour creamer into her coffee. I watched without realizing I was watching, not fully realizing how magical the act was. Then I got home and read this. I like coincidences.

There is so much to wonder at in the world.

Emily mourns in "Our Town" that "I can't go on, it goes so fast, we don't have time to look at one another." So many little details obscured by dailiness, whizzing by too fast to notice. Truly, I miss so much.

A word, a smile, a gesture, a nod. The whiss and snap of Schuyler's soda can, the slow-melting snow on the driveway, the swirling of creamer into coffee. There is so much that is so wonderful that I hardly ever catch.

Aliveness seems rather beautiful today.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Response.

Oh great God, be small enough to hear me now. Oh great Creator, tune your ear to your creation. Forgive my wayward judgments and my impatience, my dragging feet and my unimpassioned existence today. Have mercy on this sinner who needs you so very much.

Was Pascal right when he said that you "instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality"? Are you gratified when our prayers match the target of what you're planning? Are you pleased with feeble prayers alike, or do you only count the heart of the prayer? I ask, God, because I think this is a feeble prayer. But I want to learn how to bring to you an offering of prayer that will please you. So I'm practicing.

I am so overwhelmed, God, by all the things that need praying for. Is this why you told us to pray continuously, because it's the only way to pray for what needs praying for? I want to be praying for the things you want me to be praying for, but that itself takes praying, doesn't it?

I think it must be true, what Walter Wink wrote: "History belongs to the intercessors who thus believe the future into being." I think this is what you want from your church, from me, to pray big and bold things after you own heart. You've built in me faith, now please give me the vision, the words.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Eyes wide open. Naked as we came.

I feel, I must defend this song. I think I like it so much not for what it's about -- overly sentimental couple obsessed with dying? -- but for what it reminds me of. Going home.

I've been thinking about dying. I was telling my mom how I was struggling to understand why some people, or I suppose I meant believers, are so afraid of dying. "Death" seems to be shorthand for "the end of what we love" and I think that's an unfair association. I love living the more I try it, but it seems to me things only get better after death. In Keturah and Lord Death, which I haven't read, but nevertheless, I like this part: "You experience something similar [to death] every day. It is as familiar to you as bread and butter." "Yes," I said. "It is like every night when I fall asleep." "No. It is like every morning when you wake up." Dying must be like waking up. Or, maybe dying isn't, but going home is. Eyes wide open, stripped to our souls. Entering a different sort of "life".

And I suppose I can gather how that would be scary. But there's so much to gain, isn't there! Sanctification, and understanding, and how wonderful home must be. Being free from oneself! There was a line, in one of the poems I read today, that phrased it so incisively, but I can't remember it. Seeing Jesus, seeing justice and holiness, and knowing. Everything, everything I've needed to know. How can I fear that? How can I not look forward to that?

I am so hopelessly young, and confined to my youthful perspective. I don't know what dying is like, not really. I don't really understand how or why death and dying hurt. I forget I'm not invincible. That doesn't change anything, of course. Knowing my youth informs my feelings on the subject doesn't change what or how I think of it. I was so struck, reading in Wendell Berry's Given, about living and dying and being old. His perspective was so different from mine, and I was nearly jealous of clearly he understood the passing of moments and the nature of the grave. I wish I could connected the beauty of living on earth with the reality of it ending. After death things are different altogether. Intellectually, I know it will be better that way. And that's fine with me. But I forget how throat-closing, heart-aching death is, while I'm on this side of the line.

I didn't open this blog window intending to talk about death. Which is good, I suppose, because I did a terrible job of talking about it. I have so many concepts begging to be given words, fleshed out and articulated before I forget them, but they're not jumbled per usual. I feel a rare sort of clarity. I'm trying to remember this feeling now, preserve this moment, so I can convince myself later when I descend into the cloud of confusion again that peace of mind exists.

Easing out of NCFCA is a slow ripping sort of sensation. When Tim told me of this, I thought I understood, but experiencing my own last competition season I appreciate the feeling. I don't like things being different. But mostly things are the same, so that's nice. I'm being mindful to absorb each little moment, storing up feelings and memories for when I'll need them. I'm remembering I still have three tournaments to go, and my favorite thing isn't ending just yet. But I want to mentally prepare myself for when it does.

"Wake up, it's no use pretending . . ."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Today was a completed to-do list.

This morning I woke up to the faint strains of "Bad Romance" coming from my radio alarm and my mom yelling from downstairs, "Get up! It's only dark outside because it's snowing! We've got lots to do today! Get up!" I don't really remember what happened between rolling out of bed and lacing up my snow boots, but shortly I was out in the quiet cold, earbuds echoing my own voice back to me as I redeemed shoveling time with attempts to memorize my speeches.

Ugh. I am very slow at memorizing.

I love shoveling. So neat, methodical, therapeutic. It was just perfect snowy weather, with no wind, and tolerably cool air, and big fluffy snowflakes. There was the perfect layer of snow on the driveway; enough to have something to shovel, but not so much to make me break a sweat.

We have new neighbors moving in across the street. For the past month they've had workers* over and an obnoxious yellow and blue and pink van that seems to belong to an electric company parked outside. This morning, while I was shoveling, five or so cars came and went, but I mostly didn't pay attention. It occurred to me that our family should do something for them, but I'm not sure what we would do. No one knows anything about these people. It's just so very New England of us.

Of course, all the snow is melting. We got a good four inches or so, but now it looks more like two. This winter seems to be coming up to an ending, which I think is just perfect, because it's lasted a tolerable amount of time. Last year the winter dragged on, didn't it?, it was nearly eternal. This year, there was a reasonable amount of snow with a few reasonable cold snaps, and I've appreciated the winteryness of it all. I like having four distinct seasons. Surely New England is the most pleasant place to live.

For some reason, I keep thinking February is over. I'm just really excited for March.

*Men who arrive at nine and leave at five who stand around in the driveway drinking Dunkin Donuts coffee and occasionally make loud banging noises. Seriously, I've watched from our window. I haven't the foggiest idea what those guys are supposed to be doing over there, but I don't think their employers are getting their money's worth.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Three years too late

I've been toying with an idea since my very first FEE lecture, which explained the various duties in a market: what the supplier is supposed to do, what the regulator is supposed to do, what's supposed to happen for everything to work like it should, and I've been wondering, what is the duty of the consumer in a free market? Is there anything the consumer is supposed to do to be the best consumer possible, or does The Invisible Hand guide everything into place regardless? This question leaked into my perception of government as well. What did I need to do to be a good citizen, to make my government tolerable? Was there anything more than voting and being politically aware? Daniel Webster said "Whatever makes men good Christians makes them good citizens" and that made infinite sense to me, but I needed to quantify that somehow.

Parenthetically, I think it's a generally agreed upon reality that we are mostly a culture based on reception and privileges and rights, and less on service and responsibility. Which is not to say we're political and economic couch potatoes -- I think our enormous privilege has taught us how to be good citizens, if only through positive reinforcement -- but that, as a culture, we have been largely unconcerned with what we're supposed to be doing besides voting and activism and buying our food from local farms. You know. We don't really ask if we're as informed as we could possibly, and we mostly except businesses and media and politicians to cater to us, instead of trying our hand at being proactive. I want to know more than what I'm merely told. I want to be responsible. I want to know I did all that I was supposed to do. Parenthetical over.

Originally only wealthy white landowners were allowed to vote, and the justification, whether it was just or not, was that they were the only ones educated enough to make informed political decisions. Without educated voters, democracy kills itself, just because the majority doesn't know any better. JKF said that "The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all." This is why the Federalists railed so hard for representative government, so afraid of pure democracy and making sure the will of the people was carefully balanced by a strong central government. Maybe it's too strong now. Maybe the will of the people is too weak now. Maybe it's because the scope of information a citizen needs to know is too large for "the people" to be an effective counter balance. We have jobs, lives, people to care about, and it leaves so little time to know what one is supposed to know. If information is indeed the currency of democracy, as Thomas Jefferson said it was, there's a lot of counterfeit currency floating around, and I just don't see how it's humanly possible to know what one needs to know in order to be a good citizen.

This is the distinction between a democracy and a republic. The distinction has seemed so pointless in modern times, when our Information Age made it easier than ever to know enough of what was going on to be more directly involved. But maybe the distinction is still worth making? In a republic representative call the shots, make the decisions, do the government-y things, and they are elected by people who trust them to know all they need to know about government. In a republic, the representatives know everything about politics so you don't have to. You only need to know about your representatives, not the whole exhaustive body of our political system. You don't need to keep tabs on ever back door bureaucrat because your representative is supposed to do that for you. Because he's representing you. It's his full time job. In a democracy, every little bit of governmental business is your business, because you, along with the rest of the majority, eeeeh, people are the government. You must know your stuff. The government, and your ability to be an effective citizen, depends on it.

Either way, it's a staggering responsibility. And this is how politics became a game of trickery, because when people are not stepping up to this responsibility and doing the leg work to know what they need to know, it's so easy to fool them. Lie to them. Manipulate them. And it's an endless cycle every democracy inflicts on itself when it fails to be vigilant and do the homework. Is it so very wrong that I have so little patience for people who are politically ignorant? This is society, civilization we're talking about, and misinformation is too dangerous to be careless over.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

John 14:27

I was working my way through a book of scholarships just now, when I heard myself mumbling "But I don't believe in world peace." There are. There are a lot of essay contests about world peace. Which I should probably enter if I want to go to college, but, it feels boundlessly hypocritical to write an essay and enter a contest touting something I don't believe in. Hypocrisy is kind of an inescapable reality.

I wonder if it's particularly heinous of me to not want to support world peace. That's what I mean by not believing in it, right? That I don't want to support it? I suppose my justification is that I don't believe world peace is possible. But then, I don't believe ending world hunger is possible, but I still give money and play Free Rice and hand out food. Just because something isn't possible doesn't mean I don't support it. [Whoa. Negatives.] I'm not that much of a hardened realist. So, that can't be it.

I think maybe I don't support world peace because I believe war is sometimes necessary. Do I believe that? I believe war is never a good thing. But, maybe a necessary evil. I'm trying hard to remember Rebecca's musings on pacifism from last year. I'm cursing the transience of human memory. I don't like thinking about war. For all my quasi-feminist rants, I'm glad I didn't have to register with the draft. That's selfish of me. But there it is.

Maybe I ought to support world peace. Peace is a good thing. Or rather, peace only happens when other good things happen: order, justice, liberty. I support those things, really and truly. So maybe I do support peace. If I support order and justice and liberty, if I want those things for every place in the world, if I pray for the people and governments of North Korea and the Land of Sheba, does that mean I support, I believe in world peace?

I don't believe peace should be maintained in the absence of order and justice and liberty. And oh, how there is an absence of those things. When, when will Your kingdom come?

Monday, February 1, 2010

"When we get to Canada . . ."

My dad is on the phone with the government.

"All agents are currently assisting other callers. Please hold and your call will be answered in the order that it was received. You may also visit our website at for more information. Thank you."

It's on speaker phone, and my entire family is steadily becoming more tense. Why is repetition so annoying? No one can concentrate with her voice on its loop broadcasting through the house. Why? Why are we so irritated by a few simple sentences, said again and again and again?

I'm thinking of what a professional flair the recording has. Impressive, considering it's the government we're taking about here. It sounds "just so" and nondescript. How can something so vanilla be so irksome?

And maybe it's just because I've been reading One Flew Over the Cucoo's Nest, and I've been viewing all that is efficient and institutionalized and stream-lined as soul-less and bizarre and insidious, but I'm wondering how I knew it was a recording, how, for all I know, there might be a women whose sole job is to repeat the same clinical message to every person unfortunate enough to call the Department of Motor Vehicles, just to repeat it over and over, and if she takes pride in her ability to say it the message the same exact way each time.

Not exactly a day dream with any impact, but, a more interesting thought than the other menial things I have to do today. My arm is sore from playing carpetball yesterday. I hope it feels better before the gym tomorrow.

I so love being young. The reality of the human form mostly grosses me out, but I'm trying to appreciate the reality that my joints are not worn and my skin is still elastic and and my bones are strong and my hair isn't falling out and, all that. Who can eat mostly anything and sleep hardly at all and meet very few physical limitations? People my age. Being able to see, or hear, clear as a bell, being able to sit or sleep on the floor, being able to fight off sickness and infection with relative ease -- there are plenty of benefits to youth. It almost makes up for being acne-ridden. I'm trying to stick it to the old fogey who said that youth is wasted on the young. Oh, how ironic my appreciation is!

But seriously, we feel so wise, don't we, because we've discovered so much, through watching and talking and listening and reading. It all seems so new to us and we don't realize that context is everything. Time will give us context and rob us of our bright-eyed satisfaction. Context must be wonderful, must make us truly wise, but we won't get that feeling back of everything being new and existing independently of so much other knowledge. Am I saying what I mean? I mean, we won't see things the same way. Because we won't be young. I'm trying to remember and cherish the way I see things now, because I know I'll see the same things differently later.

I hate work. I love work. Such is life. Back to work.